News / USA

Honoring Unsung Hero of Women's Rights Movement

Jane Addams advanced suffrage, democracy and world peace

Jane Addams speaking to a crowd upon her arrival from the Netherlands after attending an international women's peace conference.
Jane Addams speaking to a crowd upon her arrival from the Netherlands after attending an international women's peace conference.

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

This week marks the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

One of the unsung heroes of the suffrage movement was Jane Addams.

Throughout her life, Addams struggled not only for women's rights, but also for labor and civil rights; free speech and world peace.

In a new biography, "Jane Addams: Spirit in Action," historian Louise W. Knight provides the first complete picture we've had of this activist, philosopher and social reformer.

'Jane Addams: Spirit in Action,' by historian Louise W. Knight
'Jane Addams: Spirit in Action,' by historian Louise W. Knight

Women's vote

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, voting was a remote dream for women in America.

Along with thousands of other progressive women, Jane Addams worked hard to turn the dream into reality.

"She first got involved in the suffrage movement in 1897, when she gave a speech for women's suffrage and she attended her first meeting of the National American Women's Suffrage Association in 1906 and from then on, she became quite active," says Louise Knight, historian and author of "Jane Addams: Spirit in Action."

Addams served as vice president of the association between 1911 and 1914. She traveled the country, lecturing and writing about suffrage. When the 19th amendment passed in 1920 giving women the right to vote, Addams became a member of the League of Women Voters, to help women become informed about the candidates and the issues on the ballot.

Fighting for civil liberties

Addams' fight for women's voting rights, Knight says, was part of a larger campaign she waged for civil liberties.

In her book, Knight follows Addams' struggles as a grassroots organizer. Her achievements include co-founding Hull House, the nation's first settlement house which offered educational and social opportunities for immigrants.

Jane Addams was 29 when she and two friends opened Hull House on Chicago's tough west side in 1889.
Jane Addams was 29 when she and two friends opened Hull House on Chicago's tough west side in 1889.

She co-founded the first national women's labor union and two major civil rights groups. She also lobbied for an eight-hour workday and an end to child labor.

What fascinates biographer Knight is how Addams - who was born to a wealthy family - was able to connect with the working class and to fight so passionately for their rights.

"She really believed you have to know people to understand how they look at the world and that's the only way you can be a true democratic citizen, kind of radical idea," Knight explains. "And she did it by living in a working class neighborhood full of diversity, of cultures and languages and backgrounds and work experiences, for most of her adult life, and forming friendships and partnerships with people from a completely different class than the one she was raised in."

Pragmatic reformer

That was one of the experiences that transformed Addams from a dreamy idealist into one of the nation's most effective and pragmatic reformers.

"It wasn't something she ever doubted, that she was superior. Even though she wanted to treat people socially equally, she felt morally superior and what she discovered by knowing people and living among them was that was not true," she says. "That just being highly educated or highly cultured, as her society put it, was not enough. In fact, it was inadequate, and that what real culture was she saw among her neighbors who were immigrants, who had lived in one world and now moved to another world. She saw a broader tolerance among working class people, a generosity of spirit she did not see among her own class. And that's what changed her view of the world."

Addams was a committed pacifist, and an outspoken opponent of war as an affront to the sanctity of life. Knight says Addams worked with other women to bring an end to World War I.

Jane Addams (right) was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Jane Addams (right) was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Women from both sides of the war met in the Hague in 1915 while the war was under way, showing much courage, and they basically were saying to themselves, 'there must be something we can try to do to stop the war,'" she says. "And they did try. Of course, they did not succeed."

But after the war, women met again. They renamed the organization the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The international group is still based in Geneva and has offices around the world.

Addams' commitment to the needs of others and her international efforts for peace were recognized in 1931 when she became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

If she were alive today, Knight says, Addams would urge women around the world to come together and organize themselves as a force for peace.

"Addams did not define peace as the absence of war, she defined it as, "the unfolding of worldwide processes making for the nurture of human life," Knight says. "And what she really meant by that was that it was a mistake to see some people as inferior whether based on their gender, or based on their ethnicity or their race or their class. So she thought you could advance peace through addressing those issues as well as addressing the issues of war."

You May Like

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid